It was a perfect night for soccer at Koskinen Stadium, but the result was much of the same for the Blue Devils as the rest of the season: yet another tie.
Thursday night, the ninth-ranked Blue Devils registered their seventh tie of the season, this one a 1-1 draw against unranked Notre Dame, tying a school record and putting Duke just two ties shy of the NCAA record. After some offensive success early in the season, the Blue Devils have been searching for that same spark, but haven’t been able to light the flame and keep it lit for a whole game, much less into multiple overtime periods.
“[Overtime] adds up,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “We’ve played almost two extra games now, with a limited bench and a limited roster. It takes a toll on us. We’re wearing out - we’re wearing out a little bit.”
Despite wearing out, for much of this matchup it looked like Duke (7-1-7, 2-0-6 in the ACC) would finally be able to put a tally in the win column—something it's only been able to do once in its previous five games. But, with just over five minutes to go, the Fighting Irish (9-5-2, 3-3-2) broke through. Fighting Irish forward Olivia Wingate found herself one-on-one with Duke goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn, easily putting it past Heinsohn into the upper left corner. If Duke’s momentum from the first half wasn’t already gone, it certainly was after the tying Notre Dame goal.
“We quit being aggressive [in the second half], we got away from being ball-winners and that hurt,” said Church. “We were aggressive in the first half from the back all the way up and kept control of the ball and we locked them in. We were able to lock them in on their half of the field. But then afterwards we quit - we fell back, we gave space in between, we let them turn, we fell back and beside - just crazy.”
The Blue Devils certainly looked like a different team after a great first half riddled with missed offensive opportunities. After struggling with their passes the first few minutes of the game, the Blue Devils cleaned up their touches and started making a string of runs at the goal. Particularly impressive was sophomore defender Delaney Graham, who had a series of runs along the sideline when she blew by the Notre Dame midfield and was only stopped right before getting a shot off.
After a few shots from both sides in the first 20 minutes of gameplay, there was a lull in the action, with a span of over 20 minutes without a shot from either team. But Graham continued to make her runs and, with seven minutes to go in the first half, they finally paid off, as Graham put a cross into the box that took a deflection off Notre Dame and landed squarely at the feet of Ella Stevens. Stevens didn't hesitate and she buried it in the back of the net for her eighth goal of the season. The Blue Devils had a few other opportunities in the closing minutes of the half, but were unable to convert on anything else and they went into halftime with the 1-0 advantage.
“I thought the first half was great,” said Church. “I thought we came out and played great. I thought we possessed, we kept it, we played between the lines, we created unbelievable opportunities, but we got one [goal] and should have had three.”
The Blue Devils looked tired and sloppy in the second half, constantly winning the ball and then immediately giving it back to the Fighting Irish. After controlling the ball for much of the first half, the Blue Devils gave Notre Dame their turn in the second and Notre Dame took advantage, keeping the ball on Duke’s side of the field for much of the half.
Despite having more shots in the second half than it did in the first, Duke’s opportunities were much more restricted, with its best chance coming in the 75th minute from junior midfielder Tess Boade. Boade was in a near one-on-one matchup with the keeper, but shot it wide. From then on, it was all Notre Dame if it hadn’t been already.
“We just didn’t have the ball [in the second half],” said Church. “We have to have the ball first and we got to be able to connect some passes - we won the ball, we gave it away, we won the ball, we gave it away, we won the ball, we gave it away.”
In overtime, neither team was able to muster much firepower, with Duke taking one shot in the first period and Notre Dame taking a shot in the second period. Most of the action came from the official, who assessed a yellow card to both the Fighting Irish and the Blue Devils in the second overtime period after a relatively call-free game.
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With just two games left in the regular season and only one of those games at home, the Blue Devils are left searching for answers. The regular season may allow for draws, but the postseason is far less forgiving.
“We can’t play for 45 minutes in this league,” said Church. “We can’t play 45 minutes in the ACC tournament. We can’t play 45 minutes in the NCAA tournament. We didn’t play the 90 minutes. And it's October. You understand it in August [and] September, but it’s October. And we give games back. We have to be more focused and concentrated and play all the way through. The girls have been unbelievable with injuries and [a] short bench and playing through things but we can’t go from one half being so good to just so bad in the second half. That’s a lack of focus and lack of concentration and lack of motivation.”